Poetics and Politics of Salt

At the opening of my exhibition in Lisbon, a woman I am chatting to tells me she liked the work, and it reminded her that Pessoa was initially pro-Salazar (the long-time dictator of Portugal) as he thought the man was ‘salty’ by name and therefore ‘salty’ by nature – which is a good thing. However later he realised that the regime was indeed the other meaning contained in Salazar’s name, that of ‘azar’ meaning bad luck. Interestingly when I put Salazar into google translate, I got ‘salt gambling’. I found that Pessoa had in fact written a poem about Salazar’s name, which I also google translated:

Este senhor Salazar

E feito de sal e azar.

Se um dia chove,

A água dissolve o sal,

E sob o céu

Fica só azar, é natural.

Oh, c’os diabos!

Parece que já choveu…1


This Mr. Salazar

And made of salt and gambling.

If one day it rains,

The water dissolves the salt,

And under the sky

It is just bad luck, it’s natural.

Oh, Holy shit!

It seems that since it rained …

My next trip is to Haiti, based on the shops selling magical and religious charms in Brixton Market, one of which has a twin shop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I started to do some research on Haiti, in advance of my trip there in December to research the cultural connections of salt and participate in the Ghetto Biennale www.ghettobiennale.org

As I searched for images of Haiti, I saw a statue of Jean-Jaques Dessalines, and was intrigued by his name. He turns out to have been the top lieutenant in Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolutionary army that overthrew the French and was then the first rule of the independent Haiti. The town of Dessalines in Haiti is named in his honour. What was curious is again I put ‘dessalines’ into google translate and came up with ‘desalinate’. So whilst Salazar was gambling with salt, bad luck for Portugal, Dessalines was desalinating Haiti…


My proposal for the work in Haiti is based on the poetics and politics of salt in Haiti. I plan to try and track down a newspaper and literacy programme called Goute Sel – A Taste Of Salt, which existed as an educational resistance to Duvalier’s regime. This idea of salt ‘waking up’ or liberating people from exploitation and degradation connects to the Vodou role of salt as awakening zombies from the dead. Therefore I’ve started to explore Vodou and came across the following recipes in a book called Voodoo and Hoodoo by Jim Haskins:

To cause confusion:

Take graveyard dirt, salt, and devil powder and mix them together. Sprinkle that mixture around the interior of the person’s home.

To make someone go away:

As the person leaves your house, sprinkle a teaspoon of table salt in his trail. Take you broom and sweep the salt out of your home, calling his name (quietly) and wishing that he not return.


Mix salt with wine and make him drink it. Pray as he is drinking that all foreign substances will be expelled from the body. The person will shortly vomit.

Salt sprinkled throughly about the house and especially in the fireplace.

Luck in business :

Before going to the interview, place 3 grains of salt in a handkerchief and put it in your pocket. When you get to the place of employment wait until you are alone or the interviewer is somehow distracted. Then throw the salt onto the north corner of the room. Within 3 days you will have the job.




Haskins, James, (1978) Voodoo & Hoodoo. Scarborough House: Lanham (reprinted 1990)

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